I’m sifting through the manuscript of Evil
Part of the difficulty stems from the fact that I wrote Evil Looks Good before I put a structure to it. What started as a 200,000 word free-form quagmire has been boiled down to a 85,000 word painstakingly-arranged work of jaw-dropping genius.
Oddly enough, that was the easy part. Now I’m both discerning and applying a structure to the story, and one way to quickly identify sections of the story that don’t belong is to ask myself this question for each scene in the story:
“Why is this scene important?”
And I don’t mean this in a rhetorical way. I mean, I write out the answer to this question for every single one of the 50-plus scenes that make up the manuscript. What gives this scene the right to be in this story? Who the hell cares whether this scene lives or dies?
Most of the time the answer is easy. You have to introduce new characters. You gotta make things harder for the protagonist. The protagonist and antagonist gotta battle. No conflict = no story. Duh.
But sometimes answering this question is hard. Really hard. So hard that I put the work aside and log into wordpress and blog about how god-awful hard it is.
It’s hard because sometimes, the answer is not obvious. Sometimes the answer is, well, bullshit contrived to keep scenes that I really love in a story where they don’t belong at all. “Because it’s a kewl fight scene in a kewl place!” simply doesn’t work. It doesn’t work for Quentin Tarantino movies. And it doesn’t work for any writer who wants a solid story that won’t be railed by readers.
Readers are not stupid. In fact, they can sometimes see the work more clearly than the author who wrote it, because they aren’t blinded by backstory, implications, intentions, and years of rework. And readers WILL question why the hell each and every scene is in this story. And they WILL know if it’s simply there to pad the word count or because the author couldn’t bear to kill their darlings.
The good news is that if a scene is worth saving, asking yourself why the hell it’s in the story in the first place often gives you the very method for saving it. In many cases I’ve been able to combine scenes or raise the level of importance of scenes, and make them stronger by making them more integral to the main storyline.
And yes, in some cases, I remove scenes that simply don’t add to the story. It hurts to see that work get cut, but it’s a drawback of the method I chose when I started writing without an outline. Perhaps next time I’ll structure my story before writing it, and I can come back here and blog about how difficult THAT method is… But I’ve said on this blog plenty of times that Good Writing is Hard Work. I’m hopeful that this hard work up front pays off for readers in the long run.
Anyway, back to the hard work…